I arrived home on a chilly Fall evening and announced imperiously to my family: "Dinner is cancelled."
I simply could not belly up to the challenge, drained from a trying day, of pleasing everyone--a veggie son, a daughter who will not touch fish and thrives on "kid food", a husband content to graze throughout the evening on nuts, chocolate, chips, salsa, and late-night ice-cream. (At 6'8'', none of this junk shows on his frame).
No one scoffed, no one raised an eyebrow, no one was put out or surprised. My husband, Michael, turned another page of Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union and took a pull on his beer, our children shuffled downstairs, and set to work sliding bread into the toaster, pouring cereal into bowls, slicing up cheese, and swivelling open a jar of organic extra-crunchy peanut butter. Our Bernese Mountain dog, Montague Booh trotted down and sat outside the glass sunroom door, beside his empty bowl, barking until we did his bidding: Dinner please! Dinner now!
I sat with my kids, caught up with their days, made sure they ate some crudites which I prepared, made certain they drank tall glasses of milk or soy milk, and then I set the kitchen to rights, so they could get started on their homework.
The truth is: I am culinarily challenged. My mother, a busy psychiatrist, did not have much time for cooking and did not pass down any tips or recipes. In fact, I have no memories whatsoever of cooking or baking with her. Yet I long to be more of a cook, to have something yummy and fragrant bubbling on the stove on a darkening autumn afternoon, perhaps some bread or special cake rising in the oven on a snowy winter night.
At Rosh Hashonah, we had a gorgeous meal with friends: potato-leek soup with a rich caramel finish, savoury brisket, homemade challah and apple-pies so moresome, they had everyone going back for thirds.
"This dinner is amazing," I complimented Rachel.
"Oh, I only did the pies," she said. "David made everything."
I turned to David. "I don't know how you do it!"
"It's simple," he said, without irony. "I follow a recipe."
My ah-ha moment?
Back to those pies, the perfect cake....
On a recent Yom Kippur, I hosted break-the-fast for friends who are our surrogate family, as we are "orphans" up here in Montreal. I can handle break-the-fast. Bagels, lox, egg salad. But I tried a special cake I had a friend's recipe for, a simple recipe.
The cake bubbled in the oven, its aroma divine: apple, cinnammon smells, laced with a buttery-creamy fragrance. I opened the oven. The cake was erupting, lava-like, a volcano, and though it bubbled furiously, it refused to rise.
"The Big Oozie," my daughter Rosy dubbed it.
My son Tobias examined my ingredients still spread upon the counter.
"Mom! You forgot to put in flour!"
I'd been imagining into my new novel.
In a jiffy, Tobias, re-made the cake: 1, 2, 3. It emerged an hour later, fragrant, perfect. Tobias, it happens, is a wonderful cook out of--you got it-- desperation, not inspiration.
Yom Kippur is anon, and once again, I am hosting break-the-fast. I will give that sour-cream apple cake another try. After all, it is a simple recipe.
If only becoming a better person, cleansing oneself of sins, writing a jewel of a short story, or creating a powerful novel, were that easy.